Recently in Performances
As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus
tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra
from the depths of her soul.
Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.
Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.
On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.
Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement,
but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment
“is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga
Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.
Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.
Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.
On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.
Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.
You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.
If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.
Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.
I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.
For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.
Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.
Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.
David Little composed his one-man opera, Soldier Songs, ten years ago and the International Festival of Arts & Ideas of New Haven, Connecticut, premiered it in 2011. At San Diego Opera, the fifty-five minute musical presentation and the “Talk Back” that followed it were part of the Shiley dētour Series which is held in the company’s smaller venue, the historic Balboa Theatre.
On Saturday evening November 12, 2016, Pacific Opera Project presented Gioachino Rossini’s comic opera The Barber of Seville in an updated version that placed the action in Hollywood. It was sung in the original Italian but the translation seen as supertitles was specially written to match the characters’ Hollywood identities.
A Butterfly for the ages in a Butterfly marred by casting ineptness and lugubrious conducting.
In 1964, 400 years after the birth of the Bard, the writer Anthony Burgess saw Cole Porter’s musical comedy Kiss Me, Kate, a romping variation on The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s comedy, Burgess said, had a ‘good playhouse reek about it’, adding ‘the Bard might be regarded as closer to Cole Porter and Broadway razzmatazz’ than to the scholars who were ‘picking him raw’.
21 Jan 2016
Lianna Haroutounian resplendent in Madama Butterfly at the Concertgebouw
The title role is a deciding factor in Madama Butterfly. Despite a
last-minute conductor cancellation, last Saturday’s concert performance
at the Concertgebouw was a resounding success, thanks to Lianna
Haroutounian’s opulent, heart-stealing Cio-Cio-San.
Stepping in for Karel Mark Chichon, who cancelled due to illness, young
Italian conductor Pietro Rizzo led the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in a
exciting, if imperfect, performance. It was evident that he had had very little
time with the orchestra. The first bars sounded rather scrabbly. There were
unsteady woodwind attacks, especially in the wedding scene, and the horn
section repeatedly lagged behind in Act III. Mr Rizzo’s signalling to the
Netherlands Radio Choir, who ushered in Butterfly with some heavenly sounds,
also suffered from their belated acquaintance. The Humming Chorus, sung
backstage, was adequate musically but lacked dynamic subtlety. Flaws aside,
however, the performance had a pulsating energy and was enriched with carefully
crafted details. Mr Rizzo can suspend a phrase in mid-air and then let it glide
down as gracefully as the folds of a kimono. He also whipped up some thrilling
Puccinian crests, although climaxes were hard-edged and needed more roundness
in the brass. Altogether, Mr Rizzo’s was an exciting Concertgebouw debut.
It was also his first time conducting in the Netherlands, and hopefully he will
return soon. There were excellent contributions from some of the principals, in
particular concertmaster Joris van Rijn’s tender solos, Ellen
Versney’s softly glittering harp and Paul Jussen’s portentous
All the soloists sang the music by heart, which is always a boon, and
entered and exited in character. Most of the supporting cast ranged from
acceptable to competent. As Goro tenor Ho-yoon Chung sang very well indeed, but
nothing in his characterisation suggested the marriage-broker’s base,
money-grubbing nature. He sounded more like a friendly next-door neighbour. A
cut above the rest were bass Miklós Sebestyén as the Bonze and the
three Dutch singers playing Kate Pinkerton and Butterfly’s relatives. Mr
Sebestyén was vocally commanding in his short scene, storming in to
renounce Cio-Cio-San for converting to Christianity. Maria Fiselier, Ruth
Willemse and Julia Westendorp were all outstanding.
Tenor Arnold Rutkowski has an attractive lyric voice with an interesting,
bittersweet chocolatey timbre. His Pinkerton was young and foolish and
completely unaware of the havoc he was wreaking. He was on solid ground as long
as he sang mezzo forte or louder. Softer singing resulted in quality loss. Mr
Rutkowski is very musical, but more dynamic control would increase his
expressive possibilities. He had all the high notes, which he jettisoned with
great physical energy, but the dicey trajectory they sometimes took made one
wish for more technical grip. Baritone Angelo Veccia was a suave and humane
Sharpless. His refined phrasing amply made up for some throatiness, mostly
evident in the upper third of the voice. Mr Veccia’s restrained Sharpless
found a dramatic foil in Marie-Nicole Lemieux, who brought her potent dramatic
presence to Suzuki. The extremes of her acerbic top and plunging contralto made
Butterfly’s maid and companion both fierce-tempered and fiercely
maternal. The orchestra was often a little too loud—a common issue at the
Concertgebouw, where sound carries further than some conductors
realise—but Ms Lemieux could easily counter the volume.
So could Lianna Haroutounian, who gave a world-class performance as the
abandoned teenage bride. Her Butterfly was trusting but dignified, and devoid
of simpering silliness. With its rich, silk-wrapped vibrato, even focus from
top to bottom, and that ductile quality Italians call morbidezza
(softness), Ms Haroutounian’s voice is ideal for the young heroine. And
she is a true spinto soprano, with enough power and stamina to tackle the
onerous third act. Her full top notes are confident and lustrous. She did not
take the high D flat at the end of the entrance aria, but the
composer-sanctioned lower alternative, and quite beautifully too. “Un bel
dì vedremo” (One fine day) was vocal perfection. She effectively
built up the tension during Butterfly’s imagined reunion with Pinkerton
and ended the aria in a stunning high B flat. Visibly emotional in the suicide
scene, she veered a little sharp in “Tu, tu, piccolo iddio” (You,
you, my little god). Halfway through, she refocused her voice and sailed
through to a secure finale. Unsurprisingly, the hall gave her a clamorous
ovation. San Francisco Opera has already announced that Ms Haroutounian will be
their Butterfly next season. No doubt she will be invited to sing this role at
several other houses. As many Puccini fans as possible need to hear her in it.
In fact, opera fans of all types need to hear Ms Haroutounian, in any of her
roles—hers is one of the major voices of our time.
Cast and production information:
Cio-Cio-San — Lianna Haroutounian, Suzuki — Marie-Nicole
Lemieux, Arnold Rutkowski — Pinkerton, Sharpless — Angelo Veccia,
Goro — Ho-yoon Chung, Prince Yamadori— Yujoong Kim, The
Bonze— Miklós Sebestyén, Yakusidé — Hee-Saup Yoon,
The Imperial Commissioner — Enseok Choi, The Official Registrar —
Kyung-Il Ko, Cio-Cio-San’s Mother — Ruth Willemse, Kate
Pinkerton/Aunt — Maria Fiselier, Niece — Julia Westendorp,
Conductor — Pietro Rizzo, Netherlands Radio Choir, Netherlands Radio
Philharmonic. Heard at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on Saturday,
16th January, 2016.